High-level of noise from Futenma Marine Corps Air Station causes learning problems in the classrooms

April 2, 2012 Tomoko Oharu of the Ryukyu Shimpo

A survey carried out by the University of the Ryukyus indicates that the noise from the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma exceeded 100 decibels in the classrooms of the Second Futenma Elementary School, which is located next to the air base, Ginowan City, during aircraft take-off and landing. This level of noise is comparable to that heard from the horn of a car being sounded in front of you and could obstruct lessons and cause learning problems in the classroom. The Okinawa Defense Bureau, the Okinawa Prefectural Government and the Municipal Office have previously carried out a fixed-point survey of the points outdoors using WECPNL (Weighted Equivalent Continuous Perceived Noise Level) to assess the level of annoyance caused by aircraft noise around the military bases, but this is the first time that noise in the classrooms has been investigated. 

A decibel represents the power or intensity of a sound and in the case of aircraft noise, indicates instantaneous noise level. Takeshi Tokashiki, an associate professor of the University of the Ryukyus (specializing in environmental engineering and noise) and his team have monitored the noise level in the classrooms of the Second Futenma Elementary School since February 24. At 12:45pm on March 20, 66.9 db was recorded in classrooms that had their windows closed to mitigate sound when U.S. military aircraft passed overhead. At 1:07pm of March 23, it was 99.5 db in the classrooms with the windows open and at 1:10pm that same day it was 105.7 db. They carried out their investigation without any children in the classrooms.

In its school environmental health management manual, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) indicates that with the windows closed, noise levels lower than 50 db are desirable, and less than 55 db in classrooms with the windows open. Findings suggest that school children in the Second Futenma Elementary School have been exposed to noise far higher than the desirable level. According to the MEXT manual, an average teacher’s voice is 65 db. The World Health Organization announced a guideline on noise in 1999, stating that in order for the students to be able to hear the lesson the difference between the noise level in the classrooms and the voice level of teacher needs to be at least 15 db.

Tokashiki pointed out, “The children cannot possibly follow the lesson properly when the noise of the airplane drowns out the voice of their teacher. In particular, during the development of their language skills younger children may not understand the lesson.” Harumi Chinen, the principal of the school, who retired on April 1, stated, “At this time of year in Okinawa there are many hot days when you have to open windows. But if we do open the windows, the noise has a negative impact on the children’s learning.” The elementary schools are installed with air conditioners, but schools’ management policy is to use them only during the months from May to November.

In 1996, the governments of Japan and the United States concluded an aircraft noise control measures agreement, in which they confirmed that to the greatest extent possible U.S. airplanes would avoid flying over densely populated areas, including schools and hospitals, but the reality of the situation is that U.S. military aircraft fly low over the school on a daily basis. A spokesperson for the base liaison section of the Ginowan Municipal Office commented, “They do not keep to the agreement on aircraft noise control measures.”

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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